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March 23, 2005

Terry Schiavo

AS WE PASS 100 HOURS OF STARVATION AND DEHYDRATION ... [Andy McCarthy] it is worth remembering that the excruciating slowness of the execution here, the incremental-ness of death, is designed by its champions to inure us to it. After the first hour, the second passes with far less fanfare, and the third less still. I've been following this closely, and I needed to remind myself today how many hours Terri Schiavo has actually been without sustenance by counting the days since Friday afternoon and multiplying by 24. How much more easily the time passes, and the world around us changes, for those following only fleetingly, or not at all.

Why should we think this is intentional? Consider, say, a month ago, before Terri's plight took center stage, if you had asked someone in the abstract: "How would you feel about starving and dehydrating a defenseless, brain-damaged woman?" The answer is easy to imagine: "Outrageous, atrocious -- something that wouldn't be done to an animal and couldn't be done to the worst convicted murderer."

But then it actually happens ... slowly. You're powerless to stop it, and ... you find your life goes on. There are kids and jobs and triumphs and tragedies and everyday just-getting-by. An atrocity becomes yet another awful thing going on in the world. After a day, or maybe two, of initial flabbergast, we're talking again about social security reform, China, North Korea, Hezbollah, etc. A woman's snail-like, gradual torture goes from savagery to just one of those sad facts of life. As is the case with other depravities once believed unthinkable, it coarsens us. We slowly, and however reluctantly, accept it. We accept it. The New York Times no doubt soon "progresses" from something like "terminating life by starvation," to "the dignity of death by starvation," to "the medical procedure that opponents refer to as starvation." And so the culture of life slides a little more. The culture of death gains a firmer foothold.

Of course, the physical needs of the body are not limited to food and water. There is also air. But no judge, even in Florida, would ever have had the nerve in Terri's case to permit "the medical procedure that opponents refer to as asphyxiation." Too crude. Too quick. Too obviously murder of a vulnerable innocent. Brazen, instant savagery might wake us from our slumber. For the culture of death, better that we sleep.

Update: I just realized I did this badly - those are *NOT* my words, they are Andy McCarthy's, and they come from National Review's Blog, The Corner. Their debate mirrors ours, and is as civil.

I *still* think this was/is an important fight - not just for Terri - but for society, as we need to confront this issue and hash it out. Sadly, I think "my side" is losing at this point. The Cult of Death (seems odd, coming from a soldier, no?) is winning.

And as I said - it's not unanimously pro-Terri over there. Derbyshire:

ABANDONED TO RHETORIC [John Derbyshire] Andy, I fear you have, as Robert Morley says in Around the World in 80 Days, "abandoned yourself to rhetoric."

You write: "Consider, say, a month ago, before Terri's plight took center stage, if you had asked someone in the abstract: 'How would you feel about starving and dehydrating a defenseless, brain-damaged woman?' The answer is easy to imagine: 'Outrageous, atrocious -- something that wouldn't be done to an animal and couldn't be done to the worst convicted murderer.'"

Why try to imagine the answer? The people of Florida were asked that in 1999. See here, for example:

"In 1999, in response to a Florida Supreme Court ruling, the Florida legislature updated its 'end of life' statutes, which were first put into place in 1990. The House and Senate voted unanimously in support of a number of changes to the text. One of those changes added to the list of 'life-prolonging procedure': including artificially provided sustenance and hydration, which sustains, restores, or supplants a spontaneous vital function.

"Governor Jeb Bush signed the bill in June of that year.

"So in 1999, the entire Florida legislative and executive branch voted for a law that authorized the withdrawal of sustenance to a PVS patient at the request of an appointed guardian or a licensed social worker, in the event that no interested relative was available.

"The 1999 bill wasn't unusual in any way and is consistent with many other states--in fact, it is considered a model for state law. Withdrawing sustenance is standard procedure for PVS and comatose patients, even though they can't speak for themselves. The St. Petersburg Times covered a few local cases that occurred in March alone."

Terri Schiavo's situation has been considered, in its generality, by the deliberative bodies of the State of Florida. Whatever is happening to her now is happening with all the levels of approval of which a democratic state is capable. Is is as well authorized as anything can be under our Constitution and laws.

I understand that you feel strongly about this; and it is of course possible that you are right and the people of Florida wrong. (In which case, you should agitate to have these laws, and the similar laws in many other states, changed.) Still and all, some token word of respect for the democratically expressed will of We the People would not go amiss.

For Jack, I offer this, from CodeBlueBlog. Somehow, I'm sure Jack will find a counterpoint somewhere... Don't bother Jack, they're out there, and this is an opinion piece... I'm not after balance today. I'm feeling all curmudgeonly.

Update: More stuff that gets to the larger issues.

I have seen a number of news broadcasters and commentators suggest that the moral of the story is that everyone should have an advance directive. But this is only part of the story. The real moral of the story is that courts—both federal and state—are not particularly good venues for deciding these kind of contentious moral issues. Contrary to all the screaming about the influence of politics on this matter, it is precisely the political branches that should be weighing in, and passing laws to prevent future Schiavos. (Indeed, Krauthammer has suggested that they weigh in to specifically save Schiavo.) Anyone who doubts the respective capacity of the branches to resolve disputed moral questions need only recall that the representational function of government which gave us the Declaration of Independence (" . . . all men are created equal . . .), and the judicial branch which has given us such glowing statements as Dred Scott and Plessy.

People should have advance directives, but they should do a good many things that people don’t do. We need to have general norms in place for when people become afflicted with these kinds of conditions without directives, and if those norms do not comply with public sentiments of right (which seems to be the issue with Schiavo), it should be the political branches, not the courts, which alter those norms.

Another hat tip to National Review - and a link to the whole thing at No Left Turns.

For Monteith - a discussion of the Federalism issues. Well, kinda. Doesn't answer his "Interstate Commerce clause question - but I think (lawyers chime in) this is really being approached from a habeas perspective. Sorry - NYT registration required. This op-ed also touches on my point - this is an issue we need to decide socially and via the legislatures - and not by judicial fiat, which *is* the favorite approach of the "cult of death."

John | Permalink | Comments (15) | Something for the Soul
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